tDAR digital antiquity


Dissertations in the Digital Age – Keeping Dissertation Data Alive

Written By M. Scott Thompson
M. Scott Thompson is a Digital Curator at The Center for Digital Antiquity. He received his PhD from Arizona State University in May 2014.

Dissertation data should remain alive in the digital age. I am trying to maintain my dissertation data as living, usable data by curating multiple sets in a widely accessible digital repository – the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). Let me tell you how and why I ditched the appendix.

Curating Dissertation Data in a Digital Repository

Recently, I completed my dissertation titled “Interaction with the Incorporeal in the Mississippian and Ancestral Puebloan Worlds.” The project is a comparative examination of the performance of mortuary ritual in the Prehispanic American Southeast and Southwest to understand the identities for the spirits of the dead in these two cultural environments. The examination involved the collection, management, and analysis of large amounts of mortuary data that span multiple archaeological culture areas.

I decided to present the dissertation data solely through tDAR (no appendices necessary). You can view the dissertation project page at the following URL: http://core.tdar.org/project/380979. Here is how I “published” all that data online.

Foremost, I curated the dissertation’s primary, raw data in tDAR. I uploaded the complete relational database that I used for collecting and managing the project’s information. I was able to make the primary data available immediately to other researchers who are interested in the dissertation. Moreover, I continue to manage and enhance the primary data and all the associated metadata. I am still currently documenting the large amounts of metadata that describe the database.

Second, I wanted to curate the processed data sets that I used in each of the study’s analyses, as well as the metric results that each statistical analysis returned. In the dissertation project, I conducted a series of multivariate, exploratory data analysis (EDA) procedures to characterize particular aspects of mortuary ritual within large mortuary samples. In order to perform these analyses, I had to process and format the raw data a great deal. During the course of the analyses, I gathered analysis results (such as multiple correspondence analysis [MCA] and multidimensional scaling [MDS] scores), and then continued to manipulate that information to interpret it. I needed to present these data in a way that allowed other researchers to obtain and use it – with no additional effort.

I uploaded to tDAR the processed data and the results that pertain to each multivariate analysis. These data are directly linked to figures and tables that present analysis results in the document. I placed persistent URL addresses in relevant figure captions and in the text to direct readers to appropriate tDAR resources/pages. You can view several of the processed/analysis results data sets at the following URLs: https://core.tdar.org/dataset/391946 and https://core.tdar.org/dataset/391948.

I hope that the curation of my dissertation data with tDAR ensures that these data are widely available in easily accessible, active formats. Like all others who spend too many years to count with their dissertation projects, I want the data to be used. I want other researchers to continue to analyze the information, to build upon or perhaps refute my study’s results, and to discover novel ways to approach these data in order to answer other questions.

Thinking Beyond the Appendix to Save Your Dissertation Data

In the paper age, authoring a dissertation presented many challenges for publishing associated data. The document itself was often the only venue for presenting these data. A manuscript does not offer ideal or even suitable formats for publishing large amounts of data. Presentation of data in a dissertation requires an author to make difficult decisions about data simplification simply to fit information into neat tables, which then span page after page after page. It eliminates any relationships that exist among the pieces of information. Finally, it lengthens a manuscript that, as your chair and your committee often remind you, is already long enough.

The dissertation’s primary vehicle for data presentation was and typically still is the dreaded appendix. Lurking beyond the dissertation’s references, appendices are often a no man’s land of supplementary information. They are long halls of formatted tables, with lists of categorical variables, numbers, and codes. Because they are printed, they require researchers to conduct hours of work to recreate the data in a format that can be manipulated and used. Thus, the appendices are only visited by those researchers who have such a pressing need to understand a dissertation’s primary data that they are willing to digitize it and re-analyze it.

In the digital age, there are new and emerging ways to disseminate dissertation data. These technologies and digital venues can lift dissertation data from the depths of appendices and place the information in curated formats that are widely discoverable. Through the use of digital data repositories, authors can preserve their primary data in perpetuity and make them widely available. Most importantly, though, they can use digital repository tools to ensure that the data are usable, right away.

It’s Still Alive

Let’s make the printed dissertation appendix a vestigial structure. With new digital technologies and venues, we have an opportunity to move beyond the simple publishing of data.

We have tools that allow us to curate and present primary data in increasingly flexible and creative formats. These tools enable authors and other researchers to interact with primary data in the formats in which they were originally created. More importantly, they allow researchers to interact with primary data in new and exciting ways, which can promote and even demand collaboration, continued manipulation, and growth of existing data. Let’s consider the management and presentation of dissertation data as a living process.

Dissertation data should not become the undead. Dissertation data should remain alive.


The National Endowment for the Humanities Grant Opportunity

The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced an opportunity to support projects that make it possible to preserve and share information from collections of books and manuscripts, photographs, archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, art and material culture, and digital objects. The Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant is filed under the Division of Preservation and Access. Institutions with large and important collections of archaeological information that needs to be digitized, organized and/or more accessible to the general public may apply. The professional and highly-trained staff at tDAR would be happy to collaborate with you to develop a budget or proposal. The deadline for applications is July 17 for projects beginning May 2015.

 

To read more about this opportunity, click here. Or send us a message at info@digitalantiquiy.org for more information on collaborating with tDAR.


tDAR at Two Conferences This Week – CAA and SAA

Digital Antiquity and tDAR will have a strong presence at both the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) and Society for American Archaeology (SAA) conferences this year. Come see us at either conference this week!


CAA

Keith Kintigh will discuss some of the challenges he sees in the future for digital repositories and digital research.

What do you want from Digital Archaeology?

Friday, April 25 2:00 – 4:45 PM, Panthéon S02

Enormous quantities of archaeological information and knowledge are embedded in articles and often-lengthy reports. Only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of gray literature and published reports is digitally accessible. These reports are often the only available data that document the excavation of important sites that are now thoroughly excavated, destroyed, or otherwise unavailable. We must develop improved methods of finding and extracting relevant information and knowledge that is embedded within those texts.

 
SAA

tDAR will also be at the SAA Annual Meeting in Austin this week. Stop by our booth (511) in the exhibit hall and enter to win a prize, or learn more about tDAR at one of the following events:


Forum on using tDAR

Thursday, April 24, 6:00 – 8:00 PM, Room 9C (Convention Center)

How do your colleagues use tDAR? Come hear students, faculty, CRM professionals, and agency archaeologists discuss how they’ve made tDAR work for them.

 

Lightening Talk on Data Integration using tDAR

Friday, April 25, 12:45 – 1:30 PM, Meeting Room 414 (Hilton)

Interested in data integration with tDAR? Come see our lightening talk at the Digital Data Interest Group meeting. The 3 minute talks start at 12:45 and we are in slot #7. We should go on at 1:03!

 

Make the Most of Your tDAR Student Membership

Friday, April 25, 1:00 – 5:00 PM, Room 8B (Convention Center)

Are you a student member interested learning more about your tDAR member benefit and ways you might use it? We’ll be dropping in on the Student Futures Forums to answer any questions you may have!

 


 


Heartbleed Response and tDAR Security

Last week, internet security experts announced a major flaw ‘heartbleed‘ in commonly used encryption software (OpenSSL).  We take the security and safety of data entrusted to tDAR seriously.  We wanted to take a moment and both outline what we’ve done regarding the ‘heartbleed’ bug, but also take a moment to discuss how we protect your data. 

Was tDAR affected?

Like much of the internet, tDAR’s infrastructure was running a version of OpenSSL that was affected. We have seen no evidence that this bug was exploited.  The Digital Antiquity staff took immediate action on a number of fronts including:

  • immediately patching each of the affected servers within hours of the announcement
  • working with our vendors to re-issue the SSL certificates that may have been compromised in the process

How do we handle server security?

The security of client’s data is of critical importance to us.  We take a number of standard approaches to managing the security of tDAR.  These include:

  • Limiting access to each of our machines and running and testing firewalls that limit this access
  • Running Enterprise focused OS versions which tend to be more conservative from a security standpoint and undergo more testing.
  • Patching our servers regularly, usually daily.
  • Limiting the services and applications running on our machines.
  • Coordinating with external IT specialists in the University and elsewhere to test our servers for common vulnerabilities.

How do we handle application security?

  Beyond testing and patching our servers, we also test the application regularly.

  • We work with external IT specialists to run common security analysis tools on our software to identify vulnerabilities.
  • We try to hack our own software.
  • We run over 1000 tests on our software prior to release, many of these are focused around rights and permissions. A number of these tests also attempt to perform actions that a user would not have rights to perform, eg. escalate permissions.

Preserving Archaeological Legacies: Turning a Citation into a Resource

In 2011 the Center for Digital Antiquity used information about archaeological reports found in the National Archaeological Database (NADB) to creates over 350,000 tDAR citation records. These new tDAR records improved this information with enhanced metadata and a display of geographic information that enable for easier discovery and access. In tDAR these records can be edited and improved; for example, if a digital file of the report described in the citation record is available, it can be uploaded and added to tDAR, thereby greatly enhancing accessibility to the information.

Recently David Hughes discovered the tDAR record for a report he co-authored in 1987: The Courson Archeological Projects, 1985 and 1986: Final 1985  and Preliminary 1986. The report documents the results of fieldwork done at the sites Courson A (41OC26) and Courson B (41OC27) as well as the almost pristine Kit Courson site (41OC43), and it also covers the history of archaeological work done at an area known as the ‘Buried City’. Anyone interested in the history of  archaeological practice during the early twentieth century–and who isn’t?– will find this section very engaging, as this introduction indicates (Hughes & Hughes-Jones 1987, pp. 7):

Many interesting human details about archeological investigations are rarely published. The stories exist in field notes, correspondence, anecdotes and rumors about the personal and professional relationships of those involved, the behavior of the crew, the weather, the attitudes of the local landowners, and vehicle breakdowns and other nuisances of field work. Particularly for the Moorehead expeditions, there is more to the history of archeological investigations at the Buried City than appears in published reports. Part of the story lies in the methods of archeology some 60-80 years ago, and part lies in the relationship of two strong-willed scholars of different backgrounds and, apparently, different values. The untold story explains a significant loss of data that occurred even before the passage of time between Moorehead’s last expedition in 1920 and the current project in 1985. This story is so important to the history of archeology on the Courson Ranch that we present it in some detail here. 

Hughes contacted Digital Antiquity and offered to scan a copy he had of the report, which he then sent to us. We were able add the digital copy to the existing tDAR record and add additional metadata. This means that this once hard to access record of archaeological practice  is now easily find-able and accessible thanks to NADB, tDAR, and Hughes.

We’d like to encourage other archaeologists and tDAR users to please get in touch if they have access to a copy of one of the  citation-only records already in tDAR.  A digital curator can work with you to add the file to the repository at no cost.  Do you or your organization have multiple reports or a legacy of archaeological work that you want to see preserved? Please get in touch to learn about the services that Digital Antiquity can provide so you can turn your archaeological materials into a long lasting legacy.


Don’t Delay! The Importance of Good Digital Curation Now!

FPMcManamon


Archaeologists are up-to-their-ears in digital data and, just like physical artifact collections and paper records, these digital data must be curated properly so that the information they contain is not lost.  But, what does this mean?  What is good digital curation?  Well, it is more than storing digital data in iCloud or a Dropbox account, neither of which provide for long-term preservation, data-sharing, or future use of the data.  And, it isn’t simply putting your data on a website and hoping that colleagues who might be interested will find it and use it.


The level of understanding of what comprises digital curation and why it is important within the contemporary archaeology community is reminiscent of the situation a generation ago regarding the curation of physical collections and records from archaeological investigations.  Then, many archaeologists did not consider how the physical collections of artifacts, samples, and records they created in each field investigation would be curated.  These concerns were left to be dealt with by museum curators or not at all.  Now, planning for archaeological investigations must take account of how and where physical collections and records will be curated.  Archaeologists are required to consider this aspect of their archaeological projects.  Similarly, planning and appropriate treatment of digital data as a normal part of archaeological investigations is essential to ensure that these results of studies are discoverable, accessible, and preserved for future use. An important challenge for the archaeological community and individual archaeologists is how to bring digital curation into archaeological practice without waiting for another generation to pass.  We need to shorten the period within which proper digital curation and preservation of archaeological data becomes a regular part every archaeological project.


The Digital Curation Centre, a national authority on the subject in the United Kingdom, describes digital curation as “maintaining, preserving, and adding value to digital research data.”  To flesh out these terms a bit, one can describe good digital curation as:

  • organizing a project’s digital files logically for efficient administration, management, and research;
  • creating detailed and “rich” metadata describing the file contents and linking this metadata directly with the files;
  • uploading files to a repository (we would recommend tDAR for archaeological data) where they can be discovered and appropriately accessed; and,
  • managing files in the repository to ensure their long-term availability for future uses. 


Detailed guidance about digital curation is available, for example, the Center for Digital Antiquity and the Archaeology Data Service provide quite body of methodological, practical, and technical information about organizing and treating digital data on their webpages, Guide to Good Practice.  Last year these organizations published a handbook with basic guidance about good digital curation methods and techniques, Caring for Digital Data in Archaeology, available from Oxbow Books.


Now, word is spreading wider.  The recently published Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, by Springer, includes an article: “Digital Archaeological Data: Ensuring Access, Use, and Preservation.”  A preprint version of this article is available in tDAR, where it can be viewed and/or downloaded by registered tDAR users.


There are positive developments based on broader national and international efforts.  For example, the US government recent policies requiring improved access to research data and information generated by government agencies.  Another positive development is the greater emphasis on requiring good digital data management by granting agencies like NSF and NEH.  Academic and scientific publishers, including the Society for American Archaeology and Elsevier, are emphasizing making data used in published articles available in digital formats. All of these general developments are moving in the right direction for improving the inclusion of good digital curation as part of contemporary archaeological practice.  With all this positive background, there is no reason for individual archaeologists or agencies responsible for archaeological information to delay the incorporation of good digital curation into their own work.  Let’s not wait for 20, or 25, or 30 years for digital curation to become part of archaeological good practice.  We will have lost much too much data and information if we delay.


tDAR Software Update (knap)

Digital Antiquity is proud to announce the release of “Knap,” the latest release of tDAR.  The “Knap” release required the tDAR staff to take a step back and review the entire application from a number of major perspectives including, performance, security, data storage, and user-experience.  Much of this work helps to establish features that will be available in future releases for you to enjoy.

 We focused on a number of major areas of the code including:

  • Improved application security
  • Clearer error messages, and better in-form validation
  • Increased performance of the entire web-application (faster searches and page loading)
  • Better display on mobile  devices
  • Ability to add ORCID Identifiers to your user account
  • Improved results for auto-completes with many results, especially when searching for people
  • Improved validation and error messages for bulk uploads.
  • Bulk uploads now support data sets
  • Resources can now inherit individual and institutional roles from projects
  • File Descriptions are now printed on cover-pages, which may be useful for redaction notes
  • Display of new and popular items on the explore page
  • The user-registration page was simplified
  • Pagination options were added for the column metadata screen
  • Table and column relationships are display for MS Access Databases
  • Fixed parsing issues with converted OWL ontologies, now maintaining import order, and improving duplicate checking

Today is World Backup Day…Are Your Valuable Archaeological Data Backed Up?

There are lots of reasons to backup your data, including protection from loss, accidental damage, or device failure, or to simply have access to older versions in case of mistakes.  Good backup practices require maintaining multiple copies of the data, ideally in physically different locations.  If you’d like more information on backup procedures (or horror stories!), review the Guides to Good Practice

Importantly, storage media (CDs, Flash Drives, External Hard Drives, etc.) are great short-term backup solutions, but are not designed to protect your information in perpetuity.  Burned CDs have a lifespan of only a few years[1], and hard and flash drives have a limited number of write-cycles[2]

Are you looking for a more long-term solution? Celebrate World Backup Day by archiving your archaeological information in tDAR!  tDAR is so much more than simple file storage–the repository offers a full archival solution.  

Digital files in tDAR are 

  • protected from catastrophic loss; 
  • accessible from anywhere with an internet connection;
  • always available in up-to-date file formats so you can open and use your files today and long into the future;  
  • associated with rich, archaeologically specific metadata for easy search and discovery.

Don’t wait!  Upload your digital files today before it is too late!

 

 


Three Ways to Connect with Digital Antiquity Staff at the SAA Meetings in Austin

Going to the SAA Meetings in Austin?  Connect with Digital Antiquity staff to learn more about Digital Preservation, tDAR, and Digital Antiquity by:

 
Attending our forum on Digital Preservation and Curation for Archaeological Data – Thursday, 6PM

  • You’ll hear from public agency archaeologists, CRM firms, researchers, teachers, and archivists who discuss the successes and challenges of digital preservation and data reuse.


Scheduling an appointment with one of our digital curation experts at SAA.  Click here to schedule your appointment! We can help with specific problems or questions, such as:

  • New to tDAR?  Ask for a quick guided to tour!
  • Are you an SAA student member and need help deciding what to archive with your tDAR credit? 
  • Are you planning a new archaeological project and want to ensure good digital data archiving from the outset?
  • Do you want to learn how to budget properly for digital curation using tDAR in responses to RFPs?
  • Are you interested in learning more about data integration for synthetic research? 
  • Are you afraid your digital archaeological legacy is at risk, but don’t know where to start? 
  • Would you like to see how easy it is to add a file to tDAR? 
  • Do you know how much to budget for digital data management for your next grant or project proposal?
  • Do you need help organizing managing your personal, project, office, or agency archaeological files?

 
Visiting us at the Digital Antiquity booth in the exhibit hall anytime.

  • Our booth number is 511 and we will be open from 9 AM – 5 PM.
  • You can say hello, and enter to win one of our daily giveaways!


 Hope to see you there!


Shaw AFB and Avon Park AFR Archaeology Archives now in tDAR

In partnership with the United States Air Force (USAF), the Shaw Air Force Base (Shaw AFB) in South Carolina and Avon Park Air Force Range (Avon Park AFR) in Florida archaeology archives were recently added to tDAR.  Each archive contains documents, images, and other data from archaeological and other cultural resource research conducted at both bases.  The creation of these digital archives is part of a pilot program to investigate the feasibility of the USAF using tDAR as a long-term repository for archaeological information important for the management and protection of important archaeological resources on USAF bases.  The records in the Shaw Air Force Base Archaeology Archive are organized as a collection within tDAR which includes 512 files.  The Avon Park Air Force Range Archaeology Archive also is organized as a tDAR collection and includes 219 files.

Most of the information in the archives is generally available.  However, due to confidential information, mainly specific site locations, included in some of the files, the collections’ material are accessible according to three  categories depending on their content.  Confidential records contain sensitive USAF information and are available only to the USAF officials responsible for the archaeological resources or others authorized by these Air Force officials; confidential with redacted copy available are files from which USAF sensitive information has been removed and a redacted version is available to registered tDAR users; and, available to all users are files  that contain no confidential information and are available to all registered tDAR users.

The USAF digital archives project demonstrates how staff at the Center for Digital Antiquity can work under contract or cooperative agreement with public agencies to provide digital curation services directly to agencies.  Some of these services include: organization of materials, drafting of metadata, examining files for potentially confidential information, and uploading files to tDAR. The USAF project to date has been funded by a contract administered through the CRM consulting firm GMI (now part of Versar).  USAF staff worked closely with experts at Digital Antiquity to review draft metadata and redacted versions of files before final versions were made public in tDAR.  At Digital Antiquity we look forward to working with the USAF on more digital archives for facilities and with other agencies on similar projects.

Have questions about the USAF pilot, or a similar project you would like to start, contact us.